Keep Your Brain Functioning

You take good care of your body to stay in good physical shape. Likewise, for good mental health, you need to keep your brain in top condition.

"Your brain is the organ responsible for how you function mentally. Like any other organ, it has certain requirements to keep it working at its best," says Joyce Breasure, a past president of the American Counseling Association. "Your brain is the center of intense, round-the-clock activity that requires a constant, rich and balanced supply of nutrients and other chemicals."

If your brain gets too much or too little of what it needs, vital processes are disrupted. When things are out of sync in your brain, it can play havoc with your thoughts and emotions. Depriving your brain of sleep, for example, will impair your ability to concentrate and make decisions.

"On the other hand, when all systems in your brain are working properly, you can sense the healthy connection between your body and your mind," says Ms. Breasure. "It's a pleasure to get up in the morning. You feel a zest for living and for communicating with people. You eat and sleep better."

Maintain your brain

These strategies will help you keep your brain balanced and healthy:

  • Get enough sleep. The brain needs downtime. If you don't get enough rest, you just don't function as well, mentally or physically.

  • Light up your life. Natural or full-spectrum light helps your brain function at its best, lifts fatigue and, for many people, eases depression. If you work under fluorescent lighting, take a walk outdoors during breaks or lunchtime. If you use a computer, look through a window and focus on a distant object every 20 to 30 minutes.

  • Get moving. Regular exercise increases the flow of blood in the brain and contributes to other chemical changes that keep you more alert. Just 30 to 60 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise most days of the week is enough to get your brain and body back into alignment.

  • Don’t smoke

  • Don’t drink alcohol or don’t drink more than a moderate amount.

  • Control chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.

  • Get treatment for depression, if you have it.

  • If you have a problem with hearing or vision, see your health care provider for help.

  • Read or play board games or do other activities that require your brain to learn and work

Stroke your spirit

Stress can also "short-circuit your brain's ability to function," says Ms. Breasure. She suggests these strategies to manage stress:

  • Tune in to music. Research shows that music calms the brain, inspires creativity and helps you focus your thoughts so you're more productive.

  • Get a pet. Taking care of a pet helps you feel responsible, wanted and needed. A dog that requires walking will also prompt you to get regular exercise.

  • Laugh a lot. Deep, hearty laughter boosts the immune system and produces endorphins, which are natural painkillers. "Buy a video that makes you laugh out loud and play it daily," says Ms. Breasure.

  • Slow down. It's important to have passion for your work, "but you also need time for yourself, your family and your community," says Ms. Breasure. "Accept that life isn't always perfect. Learn to deal with the occasional rough spots and move on."

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